Hassan Almrei ends 73-day hunger strike on a hopeful note
Hundreds Rally outside Metro West as RCMP Refuses Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Mohammad Mahjoub On Day 59 of Hunger Strike
TORONTO, SEPT. 3, 2005 -- A remarkable week came to a remarkable conclusion today as Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee on day 73 of his hunger strike from his solitary confinement cell in Metro West Detention Centre, decided to suspend his hunger strike because of the hope he has been given by many people across Canada.
Shortly after 4 pm, as over 300 people gathered around the entrance to the Metro West, Almrei was able to call out from his cell and announce through a friend that he had broken the hunger strike. He was overcome with emotion as he heard the gathered throng cheering in support.
Acknowledging the numerous demonstrations which took place across Canada this week, and the work of thousands of people calling and writing the politicians responsible for his conditions, Hassan, in a dictated statement, said, "The hunger strike is my only voice in here. It is the only way I have to wake people up to what is going on in here. You, the Canadian people, have helped me make my voice very loud and clear. I want to thank you a million times for this. My words can't express how much I feel and appreciate your support, and your concern about my health. I wish there were something I could give all of you.
"Mahatma Gandhi went on hunger strikes in India. Sometimes he would stop them when he saw positive things happening, when he saw a reason to believe in hope. Because of the new hope you have given me, today I will end my hunger strike, but NOT my struggle for my rights." (full statement below) Almrei urged those attending and those who would read about the rally later to continue contacting the Ontario ministry, since his court date is still well over a month away.
The statement was read at a spirited rally outside the prison where Almrei, along with Mohammad Mahjoub (still on hunger strike, day 59) and Mahmoud Jaballah have all been held on secret trial security certificates for well over four years, without charge, bail, or an opportunity to see the case against them.
Yesterday in Montreal, a delegation of physicians and nurses delivered a letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin expressing their concern about the health of Almrei and Mahjoub. "It is shocking that people have to resort to a hunger strike to demand conditions that we feel to be so basic and justified. Furthermore, it is imperative to understand that if this hunger strike continues much longer, a fatal outcome or at least a disability is to be expected. This is an entirely avoidable outcome and for these reasons we urge your urgent and immediate intervention to avoid an extremely regrettable consequence in anticipation of the upcoming Labour Day long weekend."
Throughout the week there have been demonstrations to support the demands of both hunger strikers. In Montreal on Monday, Warren Allmand, Alexandre Trudeau, Janet Cleveland and numerous others spoke in front of Justice Minister Irwin Cotler's office, seeking his intervention in the case. Trudeau noted that the Toronto detainees are held under conditions far worse than those enjoyed by the "worst criminals in this country." By Wednesday, former NDP leader Alexa McDonough issued a statement urging Cotler to do the same.
In Ottawa on Thursday, banners were hung from the Mackenzie Bridge while another rally of 60 people was held later in the day demanding justice for the hunger strikers. Among those demonstrating was Sophie Harkat, whose husband, Mohamed Harkat, remains detained under similar circumstances in Ottawa.
That afternoon in Vancouver, there was a rally of about 50 people, and over 100 letters that were signed by passersby were faxed to Ontario's Minister of Corrections and Community Safety Monte Kwinter the next day. A London, Ontario rally was also staged by People for Peace in front of a local detention centre where numerous individuals are detained on immigration holds.
And in what is slowly becoming a long-sought response, and a potential CSIS nightmare, members of Toronto's Muslim community gathered Thursday night to start discussions on how to start speaking out about secret trials and other civil rights violations directed at their community. In front of the families of Mr. Mahjoub and Mr. Jaballah, leaders of the community publicly apologized for their failure to stand with them through these last five years, and pledged their political and financial support. The group was urged to adopt the tactics of the U.S. civil rights movement, which engaged in nonviolent action throughout the American South in the 1950s and 1960s to achieve the kinds of rights which are now being denied to members of the Arabic and Muslim communities in Canada.
The fruits of that meeting were evident today as almost half the crowd was made of up members of the GTA Muslim community, who cheered speaker after speaker denouncing the conditions of detention for the secret trial detainees. Kike Roach, the lawyer representing Hassan, spoke passionately about the difficulties Hassan has faced, while Zafar Bangesh of the Islamic Society of York Region delivered a rousing condemnation of the injustices which have been directed at the secret trial detainees and their families.
Among other speakers were Alexandre Trudeau, currently making a documentary on secret trials and a bail surety for Hassan, and Natercia Coelho, who spoke about the need to view such cases as these -- as well as that of her husband, Gary Freeman, currently detained over a year while fighting extradition to the U.S. for an incident in 1969 -- as ones in which human rights must trump all other considerations, something which the Canadian government has been failing to do. Coelho's speech was a good reminder that the secret trials represent the tip of an iceberg of injustice across this country.
Midway through the rally, a phone call was received from Mahmoud Jaballah, who thanked those gathered for their prayers and support via a cell phone hooked up to a microphone. He was followed by emotional stories from Ahmad Jaballah, the oldest of six children, his sister, Afnan, and their youngest sibling, Ali. A family friend spoke about the amazing strength of the family going through this ordeal, and urged all there to come to court this Wednesday, September 7, at 10:30 am at 361 University Ave to be with Jaballah as he seeks the right to seek bail in Federal Court.
The rally closed with words from Steve Watson of the Canadian Autoworkers. Watson is activist who has walked the walk with the secret trials campaign from the very beginning and someone whose President, Buzz Hargrove, was the one of the first union leaders in Canada to speak out on the issue. Numerous members of the CAW and United Steelworkers were in attendance, and one CAW activist brought forward 500 letters of support for the hunger strikers' demands that had been signed at his plant, and which will be sent to Monte Kwinter on Tuesday.
Today's rally was organized with the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, which is planning a major rally at the U.S. Consulate at 1 pm in Toronto on Saturday, September 24, as well as numerous Muslim organizations and the secret trials campaign.
At the end of the rally, the group walked for about 20 minutes to the local RCMP detachment to present a gift of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since the RCMP and CSIS violate them so often, the idea went, they had probably lost their office copy and could use a new one. As has happened to similar gifts at both the RCMP and CSIS over the past 5 or so years, the gifts were refused.
THERE IS STILL MUCH TO BE DONE TO END THE TRAGEDY OF SECRET TRIALS IN CANADA.
Hassan is hoping that folks will continue contacting Monte Kwinter and Anne McLellan, urging that they change his conditions of detention. Mohammad Mahjoub is asking the same.
To hear Hassan interviewed live on Toronto's CKLN on Day 70 of his hunger strike, go to this weblink:
BELOW ARE HASSAN'S STATEMENT AND THE LETTER DELIVERED BY MONTREAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS ON FRIDAY:
September 3, 2005
This is a note for the people of Canada, and for all the people demonstrating today at this jail.:
I, Hassan Almrei, am in day 73 of my sixth hunger strike since October, 2001, when I was arrested on a security certificate. I have not been charged with anything, ever, in this country or in Syria, and my home for the past four years has been four walls in a 9 X 12 solitary confinement cell. I am held on secret evidence.
My hunger strike is not just for myself. It is for all the people who face these conditions of detention. I am sad that the Ontario government will not give me my basic human rights. These rights are in international law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is why we need to go to court on October 11 to fight for these rights. I wish the government would save the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and give me my rights, but they are insisting we go to court.
Many people have asked me to stop my hunger strike. They have said how upset they are. They have sympathy for these issues. I appreciate this. But sympathy is not enough. People need to speak up, to challenge this secret evidence, the deportations to torture, this indefinite detention in solitary confinement, for me, for the other secret trial detainees, for anyone in this situation.
In the past week, I have heard about demonstrations in Canada supporting my demands. I have heard that hundreds and hundreds of people have been writing, calling, faxing Monte Kwinter, Paul Martin, Anne McLellan, and Joe Volpe. This has given me hope.
Despite everything that has happened to me, I still think Canada is the best country in the whole world. The response of the Canadian people to my hunger strike confirms this for me. When they know what is really happening, people in Canada do care. I also want to thank the guards in segregation and the health unit at Metro West, who have shown very great concern for me during this hunger strike.
The hunger strike is my only voice in here. It is the only way I have to wake people up to what is going on in here. You, the Canadian people, have helped me make my voice very loud and clear. I want to thank you a million times for this. My words can't express how much I feel and appreciate your support, and your concern about my health. I wish there were something I could give all of you.
Mahatma Gandhi went on hunger strikes in India. Sometimes he would stop them when he saw positive things happening, when he saw a reason to believe in hope.
Because of the new hope you have given me, today I will end my hunger strike, but NOT my struggle for my rights.
So please, as my voice on the outside, I need you to keep speaking up, to not be afraid, and to come to court on October 11 for my hearing. I need you to speak up about the secret trials, about the conditions of detention, about the deportations to torture.
I hope I can meet each and every one of you someday soon. But for now, someone else holds the key to my door.
Thank you very much. Hassan Almrei
The following letter was delivered to an official in the Prime Minister's Montreal office by a delegation of eleven health professionals on Friday.
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
The undersigned health professionals would like to express our rave concern about the effects of the hunger-strike and conditions of detention on the health of Mr. Hassan Almrei and Mr. Mohammad Mahjoub.
As you know, these two men have been ingesting only water and some orange juice, for 72 days in the case of Mr. Almrei and 58 in the case of Mr. Mahjoub. This is an excessively prolonged period for such a severe hunger strike. In comparison, may we remind you that the duration of Mr. Almrei's hunger-strike dangerously approaches the maximum survival time for the Irish political prisoners of the 1980's, some of whom died after a much shorter hunger strike. According to the information we have, Mr. Almrei has already lost 50 pounds. It is important to note that a weight loss of 35-50% of initial body weight is considered to be incompatible with life. Given that the average male weighs approximately 150 pounds, the weight loss that has already occurred appears alarming.
Despite the ingestion of a little sugar and vitamins, the risk of death due to overwhelming infections, heart arrhythmias, or the dysfunction and failure of vital organs is quite high, if not imminent. Grave and permanent sequelae, including severe neurological impairment and other complications, can be predicted if the hunger strike continues, as well as further complications with the cessation of the strike and medical treatment.
Additionally, the conditions of detention to which the two men are subject are far from conducive to physical and mental health. In fact, a balanced diet and a modicum of physical exercise constitute the most basic requirements of physical health. Moreover, a sense of security about the future as well as significant and regular human contact are among the essential conditions for safeguarding mental health. These fundamentals appear to be absent from the current conditions under which Mr. Almrei and Mr. Mahjoub are detained, in complete contradiction with the directives of our various professional orders. Prolonged solitary confinement, the uncertainty of the legal proceedings, the threat of deportation to a country which practices torture constitute treatment which is comparable to psychological torture, and which we denounce as injurious to mental health.
In conclusion, we regard the conditions under which Mr. Almrei and Mr. Mahjoub are currently detained to be unacceptable from a health standpoint. It is shocking that people have to resort to a hunger strike to demand conditions that we feel to be so basic and justified. Furthermore, it is imperative to understand that if this hunger strike continues much longer, a fatal outcome or at least a disability is to be expected. This is an entirely avoidable outcome and for these reasons we urge your urgent and immediate intervention to avoid an extremely regrettable consequence in
anticipation of the upcoming Labour Day long weekend.
Nazila Bettache, MD
Janet Cleveland, PhD
Pierre Dongier, MD
Catherine Gagnon, RN
Samir Hussain, MD
Amir Khadir, MD
Marie Munoz, MD
Marie Jo Ouimet, MD
Olivier Sabella, MD
Scott Weinstein, RN
Gerald van Gurp, MD
(summary prepared by Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada. As we continue to build towards what we hope will be the aboliton of secret trials and deportations, we are as always grateful for any donations which folks can provide to pay our expenses. Cheques can be made out to Homes not Bombs and mailed to PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0. Our website is www.homesnotbombs.ca
Thanks to everyone for all their support this past week. Let's keep moving forward!
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